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Bizarre Burials Uncovered in Ancient Georgia Cemetery Include Headless Skeletons and Decapitated Skull on a Plate

A team of Georgian and Polish archaeologists working at the Beshtasheni burial site of south-eastern Georgia have uncovered 16 graves dating from the Late Bronze to Early Iron Age. Most of the burials were covered with a stone or dirt mound or large stone slabs. Although the style of the outside of the graves may not seem exceptional, some of the remains found within are.

Archaeofeed describes three of the more interesting burials that were unearthed: a double burial of a man and woman, a burial of a young woman, and a large burial of a man. Jacek Hamburg from the Institute of Archaeology at Warsaw University, who led the work with the Polish side, was especially intrigued by the double burial. He told PAP:

“What is very interesting is that both of the deceased were buried without their heads. What’s more, after analyzing the woman’s skeleton we found that her body had two bronze arrowheads embedded within it – one in the leg and the second in her ribs in the vicinity of her heart. It could be the direct cause of her death.”

An arrowhead that was found in the young woman’s ribs.

An arrowhead that was found in the young woman’s ribs. (Dimitri Narimanishvili)

The woman in the double burial died when she was between the ages of 17-25 years old and the man found beside her was 19-25 years old when he passed away. Along with their bodies, the researchers found an iron dagger, a bronze strip with geometric designs, and some ceramic vessels. Both of the individuals were buried on their right side and in the fetal position.

The double burial found at the Beshtasheni, Georgia burial site.

The double burial found at the Beshtasheni, Georgia burial site. Source: Katarzyna Pawłowska

The second of the strange graves was that of a young woman. What is notable about this burial is that it contained only the head of the woman with some grave goods. The researchers estimate that she was between 17-25 years old at time of her death. Her skull was buried on top of a disc and surrounded by beads, small vessels, and some poorly preserved metal objects.

The third of the more remarkable burials was also the largest found during the excavations. It contained the remains of a man who was also laid to rest in the fetal position. Grave goods in this burial include: a dagger measuring almost a half meter (1.6 ft.) long, bronze and iron arrowheads, a horn, animal bones (including a whole pig which was placed in one corner). Archaeofeed says that the dagger “was decorated with depictions of deers and horses.”

PAP adds that the man’s burial also contained a bronze strip which was decorated with deer and horses and had been repaired. They also say that many other graves within the cemetery held remains of pigs and other animals as well. Furthermore, PAP reports that the researchers were very interested in a “pedestal vessel” they found in this grave.

The distinct vessel is characterized by a tall, slender form at the bottom and a large upper lip. PAP says that “Many units have a hole in the central part of the bottom of the vessel, making it even harder for archaeologists to interpret.” Hamburg pointed out that the vessels are unique to the region, however they found an unexpected amount amongst these graves.

The largest tomb discovered during the recent excavations. There is a visible strip of bronze in the upper right and a pedestal vessel in the upper left.

The largest tomb discovered during the recent excavations. There is a visible strip of bronze in the upper right and a pedestal vessel in the upper left. (Dimitri Narimanishvili)

Dr. Dimitri Narimanishvili of the Georgian National Museum also told PAP that the Beshtasheni cemetery provides a final resting place for people who were both farmers and warriors. Many of the graves held weapons, which he believes suggests a strong militarization of the community.

Archaeological work has taken place at the Beshtasheni site sporadically since the mid-30s. The current work at the site involved archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw and the Georgian National Museum.